Biden faces criticism from Johnson, progressives for weighing executive action on asylum

Written by on February 23, 2024

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(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden on Thursday faced criticism from Republicans and some progressive Democrats over reports that he is considering executive action to tighten asylum restrictions.

One potential course of action, an administration official told ABC News, would be to prohibit migrants from seeking asylum if they cross into the U.S. illegally between ports of entry. The official stressed, however, that they are far from deciding what steps, if any, to take.

The considerations come as Biden continues to face political headwinds on immigration in the 2024 campaign. House Republicans have pressured him for months to act unilaterally to curb migrant encounters at the southwest border, which reached a record high in December.

The White House previously brushed off suggestions he could do so, saying only legislation from Congress could effectively solve the problem. When asked about his executive authority last month, Biden told reporters: “I’ve done all I can do.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson, who has led the charge in urging Biden to use executive authority while also killing a bipartisan immigration proposal out of the Senate, dismissed Biden’s potential change of course as “election year gimmicks.”

“Now, in an election year, after the president has surrendered the border to cartels and smugglers, after tens of thousands of Americans have tragically lost their lives due to fentanyl poisoning, after countless unaccompanied minors and young people have been subjected to human trafficking, and after millions of illegal aliens have been scattered by the Biden administration throughout our country — the president suddenly seems interested in trying to make a change using the legal authority that he claimed until recently didn’t exist,” Johnson said.

An administration official, asked about Biden’s previous comments that he was out of options when it came to the border, argued it would be irresponsible not to consider all possibilities after the immigration deal hit a dead end in Congress.

The bill (which tied border security and immigration reforms to aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan) included funding to bolster immigration review and hire additional border patrol agents; some changes to the asylum system; and new emergency powers for officials.

But Johnson, who called for foreign aid to be connected to immigration changes, poured cold water on the deal before its release and immediately after deemed it “dead on arrival” in the House. Former President Donald Trump, too, has encouraged Republicans to avoid passing a compromise bill and wait until after the 2024 election.

Biden slammed Republicans for tanking the deal and “caving” to Trump.

“Every day between now and November, the American people are gonna know that the only reason the border is not secure is Donald Trump and his MAGA Republican friends,” he said earlier this month in remarks from the White House.

But polls show immigration is a weak spot for Biden: He has just an 18% approval rating on the issue, according to a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll.

In taking a tougher stance on the issue, Biden has drawn fire from progressives within his own party.

“Doing Trump impressions isn’t how we beat Trump,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., wrote on X in response to reports he is weighing possible executive action. “Seeking asylum is a legal right of all people. In the face of authoritarian threat, we should not buckle on our principles – we should commit to them.”

Democrat Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said an executive action to tighten asylum restrictions “would be an extremely disappointing mistake.”

“Cruel enforcement-only policies have been tried for 30 years and simply do not work,” Jayapal wrote on X. “Democrats cannot continue to take pages out of Donald Trump and Stephen Miller’s playbook — we need to lead with dignity and humanity.”

Executive action restricting asylum could also result in legal battles. An attorney for the ACLU told the New York Times that, depending on the details, they could challenge the action.

Immigration activists have also pushed back on the idea.

“The Biden administration should ensure that any border security executive action protects due process for asylum seekers and provides resources for a fair, efficient and humane asylum system,”Kerri Talbot, the executive director of the advocacy group Immigration Hub, said in a statement.

“An asylum ban would be misguided and illegal. Americans want an orderly system at the border that protects access to asylum,” Talbot said.

ABC News’ Armando Garcia contributed to this report.

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